Monday, February 16, 2015

An Open Letter to the Men's Basketball Team.

To the players, coaches and those who help the outcome on the court,

For better or worse, you are the spotlight of the Athletic Department. The perception of the entire Department, and to a lesser extent the University as a whole, lays on your performance. It may not be fair and it certainly isn't right, but it is what it is.

For years, the University just let the Athletic Department get by with no real active involvement. This is evident from the time the UTA Rebels joined the highest ranks of the NCAA until a few years ago. There was a long stretch of time where UTA was one of the worst performing teams in the Southland Conference from top to bottom with some of the most sub-par venues in the SLC.

But all that has changed. The University is actively involved now and has made Athletics a higher priority. Of course, College Park Center is one of the most visible signs. Going from Texas Hall, which never really was an athletic arena, to one of the finest basketball and volleyball places to play in all of the NCAA and would make many Big 12 teams jealous is the most obvious example, but nearly every sport is receiving some form of facility upgrade. Allan Saxe Field is almost an entirely new softball stadium. Clay Gould has received several upgrades of the last few years. Even Maverick Stadium has seen some improvements. With the baseball and softball teams now in their own locker rooms and the plans for doing so been in the works for years, the six track teams have better facilities at their disposal to train and practice. 11 of UTA's 14 teams has seen some facility upgrades in the last few years. That was unheard of when I was a student at the turn of the century.

But it doesn't end there. The admin was active in upgrading UTA's conference. The Mavericks went from a FCS/1-AA-football-centric conference with decent baseball and softball competition and bottom-level everything else to the nationally-known Western Athletic Conference. When the WAC had to exercise their nuclear option, the admin was active in securing membership into the Sun Belt Conference. While not as nationally-recognized, it was unmistakeably a step up from Southland and the now-WAC competition.

The budget is about double from when I was a student just a decade ago too. More money doesn't guarantee success, but it sure makes getting there a bit easier. The cynicist would say that is a byproduct of UTA's growth and the student fee, but the fact remains the Athletic Department is spending far more money now than at the rate of inflation.

The other big difference is the admin support. I try to make one of every sport played on campus a year, and in the higher-profile sports it is multiple. I have yet to attend any sporting event that President Vistasp Karbhari wasn't there, minus one baseball game. I can't recall one game of any kind where President Witt, President of UTA at the time I attended UTA, was in attendance. Though I concede I didn't really care then about presidential attendance and may have missed it.

All of this is a long way for me to say the U cares about your performance and is giving you the resources you need to compete. The downside is that expectations are there for a team to compete. One of the things I love about the UTA fan base is the incredible realism that we have. We know what to expect and don't have delusions of granduer. Keep that in mind as I go forward.

I know you guys as a whole are quite a young team. You are talented, but young. However you have shown an ability to compete, no matter the opponent. Problem is it ranges from the ranked team in the top 25, to an RPI-300 team. How can UTA claim wins over the top two teams in the conference, but have been swept by the last place team? It is very defeating seeing a team that should be a Sun Belt leader fighting for fourth place with little chance for third. Beat the teams that aren't even above .500 in conference play and you are at the top of the conference.

As a fan, most of us would like to see some consistency that has been missing the last few years. I'd rather be consistently middle of the pack and beat who we are supposed to, rather than do well against the top and poorly versus the bottom. As a fan, this yo-yo action and inconsistency on the court is tough to take. I'm a die-hard and will support regardless. The fairweather fans may be lost forever because of it. That hurts every athletic team in the process.

All UTA fans ask is a Maverick team playing at an even level night in and out. We are okay with losing to a better team. We get frustrated when the last place team in the conference sweeps you. We get frustrated when we have more wins over the top two teams than the bottom two.

So please, help build the fan base and don't play to the level of your opponent. Please don't look past anybody on the floor. Please take it one game at a time and do what you have to against those that you should do it too. Don't take any team for granted.

Beating ULM, Georgia Southern and Louisiana-Lafayette is a great accomplishment. Losing to Troy and South Alabama tarnishes that. You, the University and us fans deserve better.